The pause was the sign. Not the first pause -- the second one. You couldn't be sure she was going to, but you could tell she was considering it.
Elena Kagan, I mean, and what quickly became the most famous moment of her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. It's the sort of thing that called for quick thinking, and more than a little self-confidence. For a willingness to spill the beans -- or even the mu shu pork.
She'd been on her guard, after all, and who wouldn't have been? She was being questioned by Lindsey Graham, the sharpest, the smoothest, certainly the most interesting interrogator in the entire Senate Judiciary Committee lineup. A Republican. And while his demeanor was friendly, even warm, she had to be waiting for the traps to be sprung.
"Where are you at on Christmas Day?" he'd wanted to know. (Or perhaps it was "Where were you at on Christmas Day?") This, in the midst of a legal back-and-forth about the war on terror, about keeping the country safe from terrorists, about the man on the plane with the explosives hidden in his underwear.
"As we move forward and deal with 'law of war' issues," Graham had just said, and then interrupted himself. "Christmas Day bomber -- where are you at on Christmas Day?"
There was so much damage that that man, and others similarly inclined, could have wrought on so many innocent people. And now Sen. Lindsey Graham was asking Elena Kagan, the solicitor general of the United States, "Where are you at on Christmas Day?"
And so Kagan tried to answer him, began to lay out the legal framework that she thought best applied to this particular type of attempted misdeed, by this particular type of person, apprehended in this particular jurisdiction, and...
There must have been something in Graham's expression, because Kagan paused for a moment, unsure that she was giving him the sort of answer he was looking for.
"Nah, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas," he said, bemused.
And Kagan smiled. Then she laughed, in charmed disbelief, and laughed some more.
Then that second pause. And then she said it:
"You know," she said, "like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant."
It brought down the house.
And even more so in certain houses.
Houses with people of a certain ... religious affiliation. People who found themselves -- who found ourselves -- wondering if Elena Kagan had given away our One Great Secret. The One Great Secret of Semi-Assimilated Jewish Life in These Here United States:
The Chinese restaurant is always open on Christmas.
And not just on Christmas Day, when nearly every other business establishment is locked down tight, but on Christmas Eve, too, when nearly every other business establishment is locked down tight and virtually nobody is even out on the street.
The Christians are home with their families.
But the Jews are hungry.
We know that it's Christmas Eve, and we mean no disrespect. But some kung pao chicken would certainly hit the spot right about now, don't you think?
That's where the neighborhood Chinese restaurant has been coming to the rescue of desperate Jewish diners for decades. Most of those restaurateurs aren't observing Christmas either. Neither are most of their employees. There's a need to fill. They can fill that need.
And they can fill their dining room, too. At nearly every table on those very special days, in nearly every chair, Jewish people chowing down. Staying out of the way, and chowing down.
And now, thanks to Elena Kagan, our secret is out. No problem.
Unless the lines get longer.
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.